Monday, March 16, 2009

Of a Conversation with Several Corrupt Paraguayan Border Officials and a Bribe, which was not given

So where we last left off, we were planning to carry out the simple matter of obtaining Paraguayan visas in order to get back to Bolivia and finally Peru. So we sallied forth to the consulate in Puerto Iguazu, but as it turned out, they dont give visas at that consulate for some reason. They advised us to go to the consulate in Foz do Iguacu or in Posadas, a five hour bus ride back the way we came. So we hopped on a bus back across the border to Brazil and went to the Paraguayan consulate, where we were told that we would have to pay the $150 Brazilian visa fee in order to get a Paraguayan visa... so we tried to cut our losses by eating never-before-seen Brazilian snacks and beers, then we went back to Argentina and got on a bus to Posadas. However, luck was not our side because we got there on a Friday night and the next morning the consulate was open, but they told us they didnt have authorization to give visas on Saturdays! Then the lady had the nerve to tell we should have gotten the visa while we were in Puerto Iguazu and this story starts to read like Catch-22, which happens to be what John is reading right now. We kindly informed her that the consulate in Puerto Iguazu does not give visas and she told us we would have to wait until monday, which wasnt going to happen. Our final hope was that maybe they could give us a visa at the border, like they do in Bolivia, or at the very least we could visit the town of Encarnacion for the day without a visa, like they do in Brazil, but no, Paraguay does not give visas at the border and the border lady went so far as to say that, unlike Brazil, we could not enter the country even for a second without a visa. But we feigned ignorance (No entiendo.) and we couldnt honestly figure out where the buses were that went back to Posadas and we honestly thought that maybe you had to go into Encarnacion in order to come back to Posadas.... so we hopped on a bus into Paraguay. We walked around the bazaar, ate some grilled meats and paraguayan corn bread, then caught the bus back to Posadas, and sure enough, unlike in Brazil, a Paraguayan official boarded the bus to check documents. He looked at our passports, asked us if we had a visa, then asked us to get off the bus, and did not give us our passports back, at which point we realized that we may be in deep doodoo. We were escorted over to chat with two other customs officials who were drinking some maté and suddenly the girl appeared who had told us not to go over the border and she told them she had told us so. We continued to feign ignorance. They told us we had to pay a fine because we had entered illegally. The first guy went to go ask somebody just how much that fine should be and they decided on $140, at which point we realized we were being asked for a bribe for the first time in South America. We gave them every excuse we could think of: 1) we were only in Encarnacion for two hours to eat lunch and nothing else; 2) we tried three times to get a visa; 3) we tried really really hard!; 4) we really wanted to see their country; 5) we would gladly pay the $90 to 150 for two visas because we really wanted to see their capital; 6) could we go to Asunción and get visas on money?; 7) it was no problem to go across the border for the day in Brazil and we thought it was the same here (even though the girl told us it was not); 8) I asked if they gave visas at the border here like they did so easily in Bolivia... all this horribly conjugated Spanish fell on deaf ears. The first official just kept saying we needed to pay una multa (which we looked up later, it means, a fine) and he kept rubbing his fingers together, saying ´money,´ menacingly in English. The following conversation ensued:

Me: I dont happen to have 140 dollars on me at the moment.
Corrupt Official #1: Then what do you have?
Me: Argentinian pesos.
CO1, did some bad math: Then you have to pay 280 pesos, which was actually a discount, since it is 3.5 pesos to the dollar.
Me: I dont have 280 pesos on me, which I honestly believed to be true but then I remembered I did actually have 350 pesos on me but I kept this knowledge to myself.
CO1: Well how much do you have then?
Me, making no move to look in wallet: I dont know....
CO1, aside to Corrupt Official #3: She is a liar.
Me, attempting a diversion: Do you take traveler´s checks?
Corrupt Officials: .... (they didnt think that was funny.)
Me: Do you have an ATM?
Corrupt Officials: .... (they didnt think that was funny either.)
John, fed up with their blatant attempts at bribery: How about we give you 15 pesos?
Corrupt Officials: .....

Finally, avoiding my wallet, I looked through my passport pouch and said, Oh look, I happen to have $32, that is all I have in dollars, will that be enough? and for some reason at the sight of my dollars willingly offered, they let us go without further hassle, they didnt take the money, didnt say anything else, they escorted us to the bus that had just arrived, and off we went unscathed. John promised them that we would not try that again. As for me, I doubt I will so much as think about trying to go to Paraguay again. If they had been more than just paper pushing corrupt officials and had actually been armed or the police or looked they had the ability or the inclination to throw us in jail, then I would have forked over all the cash I had, but they were just fat and greedy and amusing themselves by hassling some American tourists who innocently wanted to visit their country but couldnt because of their inefficient bureaucratic red tape. If things had turned out differently that may have been the stupidest and most expensive lunch I have ever had in my life.

From The Trip, pt. 9: Back to Argentina

And that is the story of how we did not go to Paraguay.

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